Co-parenting after a divorce is like learning a new dance. You’ve been parenting with your spouse for your child’s entire life and now it’s completely different. One home becomes two. There are new routines and new relationships to manage. You and your co-parent make take very different approaches on how to handle these changes, and you may not always agree with each other.
It can be hard to let things go; your children are the most important people in your life and you care deeply about how they are parented. However, if everything becomes a big deal, then you will find yourself exhausted, ineffective, and continually at odds with the person that should be your partner in this process. Here are some things to consider about when to hold firm and when to let things go:
These are safety issues where you can’t let go, most specifically issues of abuse or neglect. These issues are always complicated and can get more so if you believe that your co-parent abuses substances or has a serious mental illness diagnosis that impacts their parenting skills. During or after the divorce process, there are ways to build safety mechanisms into a parenting plan to make sure that your kids are safe at all times. For example, if alcohol abuse is an issue, both parents could agree to forego alcohol when the kids are there or that a parent with alcohol issues will utilize an ignition lock breathalyzer when transporting the children.
These are issues you feel strongly about and about which you're willing to hold firm. They may be related to religious or educational beliefs or character values, such as honesty or integrity. You need to be able to clearly communicate why these issues are important to you and what you are seeking from your co-parent. Remember, your co-parent will have their own list of core values and you have to be open to hearing about those as well.
This is where you need to compromise and show flexibility to have a good working relationship with your co-parent. Maybe you let your kids unwind after school and your co-parent insists that homework get done first. Maybe you believe kids need to eat vegetables from every color of the rainbow and your co-parent leans toward french fries as the vegetable choice. This is where you can be a united front without doing things exactly the same. If you hear “Dad lets us watch...” or “Mom lets us eat…”, simply respond, “At my house, (insert expectation)” without any commentary on how it is handled elsewhere.
You are no longer married, so you no longer need to weigh in on your co-parent’s personal life. Hopefully, in your parenting plan you have clarified how issues that intersect between personal and parenting will be handled, such as how and when new partners are introduced. Beyond that, your ex’s dating life is not your concern. How they dress, what car they buy, and where they vacation are also not your concern. The good news: your personal life is also not up for discussion. Each of you is allowed to handle your adult life as you see fit moving forward (again, unless it affects the children).
Sometimes letting things go is easier said than done. If your blood boils every time one of these personal preference issues comes up, take some time to step back and cool down. Ask yourself, what are you really upset about? Is it really about the vegetables or is this about leftover hurt and anger from the divorce? Make sure you are taking care of yourself (physically and emotionally) so that you feel able to handle the stressors associated with co-parenting. Also, having supportive people who want to see you have a positive co-parenting relationship is so valuable.
Don’t spend your energy criticizing your co-parent about his/her handling of things that boil down to personal preference. Save your energy for issues that really matter and for living the life you want to live.